ELMIRA, N.Y. — The Elmira Soaring Eagles (17-6-4) won their first ECAC West championship title since 2006 on home ice tonight. They defeated the Neumann Knights (14-8-5) by a score of 5-1 in front of a raucous crowd at the Murray Athletic Center.
The game was much closer until Elmira chipped in a pair of empty-net goals in the final two minutes of the contest to seal the victory. With the win, Elmira has sewn up the Pool B bid into the NCAA tournament. Neumann’s tournament fate is more uncertain, as the Knights must now await news from the NCAA Selection Committee Sunday evening.
The Soaring Eagles tallied a pair of power-play goals on identical plays to take control of the game. Both goals started from the right point, with a pass down low on the weak side where the goals were scored from.
“All credit to coach Dean Jackson,” said Elmira coach Aaron Saul. “He did a great job with the power play and it happened to be the same play which was fortunate for us. Our penalty kill tonight was very good, but our power play was the difference.”
Elmira opened the scoring midway through the first period on its first power play of the game. Kevin Willer, playing the right point, fed the puck diagonally down the slot to Brendan Sanders standing inside the left faceoff circle. Sanders quickly settled the pass and wristed the puck high into the net over Neumann goaltender Ross MacKinnon’s shoulder to give the Soaring Eagles the 1-0 lead at 11:40.
“We got caught on the switch twice,” said Neumann coach Dominick Dawes. “It’s something we talked about, but they slipped the pass through. Every game in this series, the team that won the special teams won the game.”
The opening stanza was a very physical affair. Elmira came out hitting anything in a Neumann jersey and the Knights quickly answered. The bone-jarring checks were all cleanly laid in open ice, so the referees allowed the boys to play on.
“We were a little tight, then midway through the first, we settled down a bit,” said Dawes. “The second period was a much better period and we had some great chances, but couldn’t put the puck in the net.”
Play settled down somewhat in the second period as the initial adrenaline rush wore off a bit. Play continued to be physical, but the bone-jarring hits were a bit less numerous than in the opening stanza.
Neumann evened the score midway through the second period with its own power-play goal. Marlon Gardner walked down the left boards and waited until Michael Rey got open in the slot. Gardner fed Rey, who one-timed the puck past Elmira netminder Darren MacDonald at 9:55 to knot the game 1-1.
Elmira answered right back to retake the lead just 34 seconds later. The Soaring Eagles had the Knights’ defense running around, and Jesper Strale made them pay at 10:29 to give Elmira a 2-1 lead.
“That goal was huge,” said Saul. “It was a bounce back, and we were fortunate enough to get that goal right after they scored. It definitely changed the momentum.”
Neumann got into penalty trouble early in the third period, giving Elmira two straight power plays. The Soaring Eagles converted on the second one at 6:33 to extend their lead to 3-1. The play was identical to Elmira’s first goal, but this time it was Martin Lee at the right point feeding Wes Consorti down low on the weak side for the goal.
Late in the period it was Elmira’s turn to take penalties, as the Soaring Eagles were tagged with three straight infractions with less than seven minutes to play. Neumann pulled goaltender MacKinnon midway through the second power play, and Elmira got the empty-netter at 18:04 short-handed by Michael Kirby, and then another empty-net goal by Colin Hoey at 19:09 to cap off the 5-1 victory.
All Tournament Team:
Forward: Matthew Wallace, Hobart
Forward: Michael Rey, Neumann
Forward: Jordan Zalba, Neumann
Forward: Kevin Willer, Elmira
Defense: Martin Lee, Elmira
Goaltender: Darren MacDonald, Elmira
Most Valuable Player: Jesper Strale, Elmira